Use Customer Input for Improvement and Corrective Action Plans

Satisfaction measures improve quality and help meet ISO 9000 requirements

by Deb Spehar

Customer satisfaction measures are necessities for service organizations looking to sustain market share against like-minded competitors. While satisfaction surveys, for example, have become commonplace, their results continueto help identify improvement opportunities. Companies such as Kenmar Corp. of Southfield, MI, are taking these measures a step further by involving customers in corrective action planning and using satisfaction measures to improve the organization's overall quality.

A case study

As an agency providing sales and marketing representation for manufacturers of parts and components for the original equipment automotive industry, Kenmar needed to incorporate quality requirements into its processes. After reviewing the ISO 9000 series, the organization focused its efforts on implementing ISO 9002:1994, Model for Quality Assurance in Production, Installation and Servicing.

Since Kenmar's product is the development and management of service, customer assessment can be subjective; however, the organization believed customer satisfaction would be the best measure of the quality of its performance.

Service organizations often have difficulty designing ISO 9002 concepts because the service standards require performance measurements different from those associated with manufacturing. For example, element 4.11 focuses on the types of equipment not used in Kenmar's operations. The guidelines (ISO 9004-2, section 6.3), however, describe the need to measure customer satisfaction. In addition, ISO 9002 requires regular assessments of the quality system's effectiveness (4.1); a system ensuring compliance to requirements (4.2); the monitoring of product characteristics (4.9); and a working plan for corrective and preventive action (4.14).

These requirements meant Kenmar had to develop documentation that would measure the organization's performance level and verify its effectiveness. The overall measure of the success of these efforts would be the degree of customer satisfaction as a result of Kenmar's performance.

The customer satisfaction survey

To obtain satisfaction data and meet the requirements of the standard, Kenmar created a customer satisfaction survey. The 10 customer concerns that most affected business performance--communication with customers, product knowledge and the like--were incorporated into the survey, giving customers the opportunity to rate their approval of each area.

After writing a control procedure to specify the format of the survey, a rating scale of 1 through 5 (1 denoting dissatisfaction and 5 indicating satisfaction) was established. Customers were also given the opportunity to voice concerns not reflected in the survey.

Customers give input on improvement plans

Kenmar's goal was to achieve an average rating of 4.5 (its actual average was 3.6). Any item close to or exceeding a 4.5 rating indicated a strength, while items with lower ratings identified improvement opportunities.

An action plan was designed to respond to any item rated with a 2 or 1 (considered a nonconformance in service quality). These ratings required a problem analysis process--beginning with a cause-and-effect review and ending with a corrective action plan--and a nonconformance analysis report.

After management reviewed the corrective action, the proposal was forwarded to the customer for his or her input. In doing so, the unsatisfied customer had the final approval of the corrective action plan prior to its implementation. The customer satisfaction results not only measured the company's performance, but were key elements throughout process improvement planning.

Respondents rating any item with a 3 were also contacted by Kenmar. In these instances, the customer was asked for suggestions to help the company determine how the rating could be increased to a 4 or 5. In doing so, customer satisfaction remained the priority as the company worked toward its 4.5 goal.

ISO 9002 success

By measuring customer satisfaction for performance and creating procedures to include the customer in corrective action planning, Kenmar was able to pinpoint its improvement areas. Keeping customer satisfaction its focus also helped Kenmar meet several ISO requirements, making it one of the first companies to receive ISO 9002 registration in the 1998 business services category.

It takes a highly coordinated effort to make customer satisfaction a top priority. In doing so, however, the capability to drive continuous improvement grows, making the organization more competitive in the marketplace.

DEB SPEHAR is a management representative at Kenmar Corp. She earned a master's degree in marketing and transportation from Michigan State University in East Lansing.

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